The Boston Parks and Recreation Department presented what ended up being a controversial proposal for Phase Two of the Muddy River Flood Damage Reduction Project at the Boston Landmarks Commission hearing on October 23.
Margaret Dyson, Director of Historic Parks at Boston Parks and Recreation, reported that Phase One of the project is “substantially complete,” and included daylighting the river in front of the Landmark Center. She said they also planted approximately 230 trees in this phase.
She also said that the Muddy River goes from approximately the Boylston Street Bridge to downstream at Leverett Pond.
Dyson said that Phase Two consists primarily of dredging the river upstream and downstream for flood damage reduction, and mostly involves work within the river itself.
They will be using the original Frederick Law Olmsted plant list along the Riverway, excluding invasive species. The focus will be almost exclusively on native species, Dyson said. Phragmites will be removed in the Back Bay Fens and the Riverway as part of the flood damage reduction.
Dyson then presented a wall that will be placed under the fence around the Boston Fire Department Fire Control Center in the Back Bay Fens, which was not popular with the Commission.
Dyson said that most of the wall is underground, but at its highest point, 4 feet of the wall above the ground will be visible.
She said that there is no way to plant in front of the wall, as it comes right up to the pathway. The Commission expressed its dissatisfaction about the bright white concrete that the wall would be made of. Dyson said she could consult with the Army Corps of Engineers, who designed the bridge, about possibly putting colorant into the concrete so it’s not so bright.
Commissioner Brad Walker said the the wall needs to be designed by a landscape design architect, not an engineer.
“This is a new addition to the landscape; it should not be faux historic,” said Dyson. “It was not done without consideration.”
“If Olmsted were alive today, is this what he would propose to us?” Walker asked. “I would like to see some designs for a wall and security fence that were put together thoughtfully by a landscape architecture firm.”
Dyson responded by saying that they are late in the project, but she could “certainly ask” about a landscape design architect.
Walker said that the Emerald Necklace is an “important place in our city,” and this project will set a precedent for how flood control is handled in a sensitive environment. “It needs to be done thoughtfully by a designer who understands the constraints,” he said.
Commissioner David Berarducci said that while he realizes that the goal is to protect the building from flood damage, he agrees with Walker that the visual of the wall is important.
Dyson said that she will see if the engineers “have the capacity to look again at this” within the constraints of the existing facilities, but said she cannot commit to what they will come back with.
“It’s important to me that we see if there’s another way,” Berarducci said, agreeing with Dyson about coming back with a different proposal for the wall.
“I want you to get the 70 feet of wall up to the quality that you have done the rest of the project,” Walker said. Berarducci added that he has no issues with the rest of the project.
Fran Gershwin of the Muddy River Restoration Project Citizens Oversight Committee spoke about a public comment letter that was submitted on behalf of the organization. She said that the focus in terms of their comments was “almost entirely on the landscape and the value and the tremendous change and rehabilitation of the Olmsted landscape.” She added that there was also a concern that dredging might cause some damage to the bridges.
The Commission voted to approve the project with the proviso that the Parks Department return before the Commission with thoughts about how to better integrate the wall into the landscaping.